The following four areas now describe how doing is different in the context of the Great Remix.
Employ Systems Dynamics
(From conductor to mix master)
As the systems of our civilization demonstrate instability and failure more frequently, openings are created for previously unexpected initiatives to emerge. We can’t know when or how but rather must work to condition the emergence of those initiatives.
Insights from the domains of systems science point to how systems work, providing essential knowledge into how to transform and operate within the systems we have. Leaders now require competencies more like those of a a mix master DJ as opposed to those of a conductor. While composers work with their orchestra to perform predetermined music, a mix master DJ comes to a room with an assortment of songs and sounds which they mix together according to the energy of the audience and the experience they hope to happen.
There are already many bodies of work in this area and the increasing rate of new works being published indicates the growing interest in this topic. Some particularly notable works include:
- Stafford Beer, The Heart of Enterprise, 1995
- Donella H. Meadows, Places to Intervene in a System, 1997
- R. Brian Stanfield, Courage to Lead, 2000
- Margaret Wheatley & Deborah Frieze, Lifecycle of Emergence, 2006
- Frances Westley, Brenda Zimmerman, Michael Patton, Getting to Maybe, 2007
Distill to Essential Elements
(From buildings to bricks.)
Big things have tremendous momentum and aren’t easily remixed with other things. This manifests as resistance to change and slows the pace of evolution. It also sets the stage for more spectacular failures. Enabling the capacity to essentially remix our society into a system compatible with the common goal requires that things be re-mixable. This means breaking things back down into their essential elements – deconstructing their existing configurations – to reuse the valuable pieces in ways that fit the new context. Houses can’t be remixed very well, but bricks can.
In this context organizations are bundles of people and assets that organize around a purpose, work towards a set of goals, deliver an offering (product or service), and develop a set of core competencies. Similarly, people are grounded in purpose, driven by passion, accumulate experiences, knowledge and connections, and develop competencies and insights. The capacity to remix elemental components of organizations and individuals directly relates to our potential in the Great Remix.
Dynamic Organization in Individual Context
(From phonebook to crystal ball)
Context is essential for people to make meaningful connections to each other and to other knowledge. Humans are extraordinary at dealing with context and substantially limited without it. Take language for example: phrases or statements out of context can be taken to mean very different things – a reality made abundantly clear by sensationalist media.
Through the context lens, information is best when:
- presented with the context it came from
- received in the configuration most relevant to the context of the recipient
- exchanged through the point where both contexts converge.
In venturing for example, imagine if rather than relying on an individual mentor, limited by their own individual context, the venturer was able to access the essential insights, experiences, and connections of a 1,000 entrepreneurs filtered according to the context of their individual and immediate situation. That would be like moving from phonebook to crystal ball.
Allying the Frontiers
(From discrete domains to friends on the frontiers.)
Given the purpose of quickening the evolution of our civilization toward the common goal, it is imperative that we foster the convergence and interaction of those that are taking initiative on the frontiers across all related domains. In this context we see the commonality between many discrete domains such as technology, science, mathematics and philosophy.
Connecting those with purpose primacy related to the common goal across all domains would be a high-leverage opportunity. Doing so could better orient and leverage all activity working toward the common goal regardless of domain.
Part of my silence over the last few months has been from some deep-digging I was doing in an engagement with the Social Innovation group at MaRS and with the Centre for Social Innovation. One of the great things about the engagement was an opportunity to push deeper into what’s underneath social innovation, social entrepreneurship and social enterprise. What’s come from that is seeping into most everything I’m doing right now – and so it’s about time I get back to posting what I’ve been discovering.
Perhaps the most profound observation during the course of this exploration is that social innovation and social entrepreneurship are not so much intentional movements as they are phenomena of the evolution of civilization.
As civilization reaches an increasing degree of complexity we are being confronted by the limits of the system that created it. This is being experienced as systemic instability and failure in everything from credit markets to climate change to the remix of the music industry. While we don’t know how things will evolve, we can be sure that whether through intentional actions or systemic collapses, we are entering a period of increasing reconfiguration – “the Great Remix”
At the same time numerous fields of study are converging on the realization that “everything is connected” and that connectedness, connectivity, and emergence are fundamentally important areas of understanding. This realization is key to learning how we might successfully steer our civilization toward a just and sustainable state.
The movements of social finance/innovation/entrepreneurship/tech all bring different perspectives and at the same time share a common ground. From this common ground will come the new initiatives and systems that change the trajectory of our evolution.
The frontiers of the evolution of civilization share the common ground of:
Interdependent in a “common goal”
Acknowledging a greater common goal of a just and sustainable balance among people and the planet.
Driven forward by “purpose primacy”
People and initiatives that hold a primary purpose directly related to the common goal are the catalysts of civilization’s evolution toward a just and sustainable state.
Action taken through a “practical approach”
The strategies and actions of these people and initiatives tend towards:
- Sustainable financial viability;
- Practical and productive application of techniques and approaches from non-traditional domains; and
- Distributing increasing control, earnings, and assets into the communities they serve.
The people and initiatives in this domain tend to be increasingly expressive of the following values:
- Exhibiting the qualities of open, fluid, and dynamic
- Providing spaces for people as they are and as they want to become
- Embracing the richness and wisdom in differences
- Acting with a light spirit, sense of fun, creativity and a perspective of opportunity
A brief twitter conversation with Tom at www.givemeaning.com on this subject had me feeling limited by the 140 character twitter limit… so here goes a quick mobile post.
I've been conscious of the impact and role of consumption in our society for a while but www.storyofstuff.com and the movie Manufactured Landscapes from Mongrel Media have had me thinking a bit deeper lately.
I think 'giving' has largely becoming another form of buying. Certainly giving has very little to do with need – unless ofcourse you turn to things like www.givemeaning.com :-). And the concept of enough is an abstract thing that is a personal, individual assessment of their own fulfillment of wants. And wants are fueled by cosumption. The more people shop and buy, the more they are exposed to things they could have and so are encouraged to have new wants. Green consumerism fits right into that. I'm all for efficiency and recycling but those shouldn't encourage further consumption beyond replacement of what is no longer working.
I've started asking myself the following everytime I spend money.
– enough yet?
It's interesting, and, if you want some help giving it a try, send me an email at michael <at> igniter <dot> com and for $25 I'll send you a set of stickers to put on everything you use to make a purchase. Might be the best thing you could do to save the world 🙂
Seriously. If I get 100 requests, I'll put up a website about for those who are conquering consumption one question at a time. Fun.
… while mobile.
An interesting article about a new way of doing deals http://mobile2.wsj.com/beta2/htmlsite/html_article.php?id=1&CALL_URL=http://online.wsj.com/article/SB119889558568757053.html (thanks to Fred @ USV http://avc.blogs.com for the pointer).
What this article really seems to be dancing around is value of relationships in finding and doing deals and in venture success. What also comes is the conventional approach of being hands-off if you are going in early and also the power of being lean/lightweight in early-stage venturing. I'm in the midst of doing a series of posts from my lastest conversations on the frontiers of venturing and this fits… and it's also a good reminder of how little really is changing on the frontiers.
We'll see if what I'm working on will change that any. I sure hope so… we're leaving a lot on the table when it comes to venturing and venturing for good. We really must be able to get better at this as venturing is simply the process of organizing people and actions to get something done. Is that really so mysterious? 🙂
A little over a year-ago I began considering what’s next in my journey and exactly 3 months ago I initiated my first inquiry into what’s needed on the frontiers of venturing and venture investing. It hasn’t been a linear journey of course, with a good deal of my attention going towards getting Causeway going over the last year.
While that was ongoing, I had about a dozen conversations over November and December with some extraordinary social venture investors and funds in North America (including Renewal Partners, Social Capital Partners, Kellogg Foundation, RSF Social Finance, Good Capital and others). To all of you I am tremendously grateful for the generosity of your time, the candor with which you shared your experiences and the enthusiasm with which you’ve approached this exploration. Each conversation integrated into my own experiences and readings, and into every other conversation. What has emerged for me is a point of summary from which I feel ready to attempt some active experiments into how do we get better on the frontiers as venturers and venture investors.
What follows now is a series of posts on:
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I’ve been thinking about what it is that really needs to be tracked in early-stage and transformative ventures. There certainly is the simple dynamic of financial viability and then there is the concept of productive, iterative exploration in the area of complex ambiguity I raised in an earlier post. I’ve been digging into what the measures are that actually help indicate the emergence of potential instability – before it’s actually happened. That’s the trick because learning that ap has exceeded cash + ar at the next board meeting isn’t very helpful. And that’s not such a rare scenario – e.g. customer holding 80% or your ar is suddenly unable to pay.
So what is it then that could be tracked. In my experience these things are often foreshadowed by either a lapse/misplaced/confusion of responsibility and/or changing dynamic in relationships. Seems to me that consciously tracking the trend in the key relationships (e.g. Strengthening, stable, destabilizing) and mapping the responsibilities for the key drivers/activities of the org may be the most enlightening things to monitor in terms of indicating potential instability. It shouldn’t really be a surprise because relationships are the essence of cohesion in any venture particularly in those early stages of development.
In my last post I intoduced ‘complex ambiguity’ as the stuff in venturing that entrepreneurs are really trying to figure out — where no-one ‘knows’ the answer. The deeper the change and the earlier the stage the greater the complexity and the ambiguity. My earlier tumbls about pentagram and that one designer have tweaked me that it’s akin to the creative process. Like designing a logo. Except that venturing can be a pereptual series of logos for something that itself is somewhat ambiguous and continuinally evolving. That’s complex ambiguity.
The penatagram video made me think about what it takes to build a successful early-stage venture shop, in particular one that looks at tackling big change or new frontiers. Having started a creative shop with some great talent, penntagram definitely seems to have operationalized something important.
One thing I’m sure of is that it’s going to play in my thinking on early-stage transformative venturing.
For me the rest of the book was a lighter read with some simple observations relating to the mindset shift that is called for and clearly already underway. Here are a couple of framing quotes to set the stage:
“In the past, a more adapted civilization evolved over several generations; the rythym of change was relatively slow. This is no longer the case. The critical period for change today is compressed within the lifetime of a single generation.”
” A Chineses porverb warns, ‘If we do not change direction, we are likely to end up exactly where we are headed.'”
That last one could be classified as ‘duh’ but it truly is amazing to look to our civilization and how little we get that, particularly in the face of clear indicators that our trajectory is unsustainable and has brought our civilization into a critical state of instability. In the face of the examples presented in the book of the unsustainable relationship among people and generally with the planet, it moves to exploring the new mindset to be created drawing from Ghandi’s quote “Live more simply, so others can simply live.”
From there comes the call to forget the following obsolete myths/beliefs:
along with the following lesser beliefs:
“Values and beliefs determine the way we perceive the world and suggest the ways we prioritize the responses to our perceptions. They affect almost all areas of our judgement and behaviour.”
From here comes the call for a ‘planetary ethic’ that is described simply as: “Live in a way that allows others to live as well.” where ‘others’ refers not only to humans but to all the plants and animals and all the living beings that make up the planet’s web of life. This ethic asks also that we meet our responsibilities in the personal, business, and civic or political spheres.
“Logos-inspired evolution was materialistic and conquest and consumption-oriented. The alternative to it is evolution centered on human development and development of human communities.” This quote frames the remainder of the book which suggests we are moving from:
Replacing those ends are the means and ends of connection, communication, and consciousness.
Some of the specific mindset shifts uncovered include:
So to summarize, what I took is that we are seeking to emerge a planetary ethic of:
and the means and ends of:
And to cap off this post, I’ll end with one of the final quotes that described the spirit of this for me:
“To live with and not against each other, to live in a way that does not rob the chances of others to live as well, to care what is happening to the poor and the powerless as well as to nature calls for feeling and intuition; for sensing the situation in which we find ourselves, apprehending its manifold aspects and creatively responding to it.” There’s a lot in that one as I reread it.
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